Traveling to China with the Leica Q Explore more about this country with Florian Bachmeier

Florian Bachmeier traveled to China, for a first approximation to a country torn between a painful past, old tradition and great sociopolitical changes. It was his first time in China, so Florian decided to create a kind of sketchbook. The trip started in Chongqing, the megacity west of the Three-Gorges-Dam, with over 30 million of inhabitants, a place which is changing day by day, old quarters disappearing in a few hours and thousands of skyscrapers raised in a couple of months. “I specially focused on the so-called Bang-Bang-army, carriers moving goods from the docks to the market in the upper streets near the Yangtze balancing them on the two ends of bamboo poles up the narrow staircases of the warehouses.

Then further down the Yangtze, Florian traveled on a Chinese tourist boat, a kind of time-out for Chinese tourists traveling their country in the week before the Chinese New Year.

Zhangjijajie, the next stop, is a booming town in a mountain area in southern China, famous for karst formations (Hunan province). It is still a region with agricultural tradition, with people living from their crops in little, isolated villages in the mountains, if they did not leave already to seek fortune in one of the megacities in the east and along the coastline. There, Florian visited the village of Shiyanping during the preparations and rehearsals for a traditional theatre play (the young boys, coming back from field work, sing to the girls waiting on the balconies before climbing up to show their skills and courage). Just outside the town of Zhangjijaie, he spent one day in an abandoned communist collective between steep hills where military plains were built. Mao, fearing nuclear attacks in case of a war, resettled important industries in hidden regions. Today, some families came back to settle in the ruins and to produce charcoal in one of the abandoned fabric buildings. “The old market in the city center is fascinating, next to the most modern shopping malls, about to disappear in the next few years.”

Shanxi is the coal province with the historic city of Pingyao, mostly built during the Ming dynasty. Coal will still last for more than 30 years and air pollution is already a big problem. The trip finished in Beijing, exploring one of the lesser known Hutongs north of Tiananmen Square.

Florian decided to travel only with the Q knowing it is a truly amazing camera. “Especially the brilliant rangefinder, the fast autofocus and the dynamic range. Sharpness is amazing. Working with manual focus, with aperture priority is also great and important for me. In low-light situations it never failed!​​”

Pertaining to his photography, Florian has been in contact since he attended school in his hometown of Bavaria. The father of one of his best friends worked as a photographer, travelled, sometimes working for him as an assistant. “I saw places where I could not have travelled without it, I knew people, read a lot about photography – and took pictures with a beautiful M6.”

After graduating, Florian went to Spain, fleeing a boring, narrow place. In Pamplona he studied photography at Escuela de Artes y Oficios, started his first projects on Spanish fiestas, sharing car and bocadillos with photographers like Koldo Chamorro or Cristóbal Hara. After working several years with other equipment, Florian bought a used Leica M4-P – and a dream came true.

“It was magic, loading films in rolls in the darkroom, then by bus to some forgotten place in the Spanish countryside, a little rucksack, a blanket, something to eat and ten or fifteen prepared film rolls with Kodak-Tri-X. After a few days back to the darkroom, and pictures git better, the frame in the rangefinder, it was a different way of taking photographs. I traded my Leica M4-P for a M6 and after a few weeks it was stolen on the way back to a trip to Portugal in Madrid. After years, I was still not able to make a living out of photography in Spain, I got more and more intrigued by history and stories and in Munich, near the place I grew up, I had the possibility to study contemporary history, focussing on recent history of Southern Europe and Southeast Europe.”

Florian combined his work at the university again with photo assignments and projects, and bought another second-hand Leica M6. He traveled to Kosovo and documented the families living on the gigantic slopes of toxic waste of the Trepca Mine in Mitrovica. While working with N-Ost, a journalist network focussing on Eastern Europe, he accepted that working with film was no longer possible, so he had to sell the M6 to buy digital gear. “In the following years I did projects in different countries of Eastern Europe, in Albania, in Moldova on Tuberculosis and in Ukraine, from the early days of Maidan.” he continues. In 2015, Florian got awarded with the first prize and the best series at “Pressefoto Bayern“ and received a Leica T. In 2016 he repeated the series award and got the Leica Q.

About the Leica Q, he shares his perspective and explains that when “compared to other similar bodies, the handling of the Q is outstanding. It is simple, intuitive, I would say close to perfect.”

Referring to his China experience, he mentions he traveled only with the Leica Q. “Composing with the rangefinder is easy and gives you perfect control on the results. I think for every kind of documentary or street photography it is the perfect tool. I like to switch to the 35 mm frame, too. 50 mm frame is also nice, but it is not the equivalent of a real 50 mm lens, of course. In the last week I shouted with the Leica Q in Belgrade, Serbia, documenting the situations of afghan refugees in the abandoned warehouses.” Florian points out that light situations inside buildings was difficult, but again, the camera performed just perfectly. He believes that it would be great to have two Leica Q’s in the future, one with the 28mm and another with a real 50mm lens.

Other projects Florian’s working on includes a long-term project on the countries around the Black Sea, together with other photographers (Ramin Mazur, Moldova, Artur Bondar, Ukraine and Orhan Çem Çetin, Turkey). “We think about publishing the results on some kind of online platform, but it is hard to get funding to get things started.”

To know more about Florian Bachmeier and his work, please visit his official website and follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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